18:38 GMT08 August 2020
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    The Austrian People's Party (OVP), a conservative and Christian-democratic political force, led by former Chancellor Sebastian Kurtz, has come out on top in the country's 2019 legislative snap vote to elect the 27th National Council. International observers have weighed up Kurz's options as he seeks to form a new ruling coalition.

    The results are in from Austria's election. Sebastian Kurtz's OVP came top with 38.4 percent of the votes while the Social Democrats received 21.5 percent, the Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) - 17.3 percent; the Greens - 12.4 percent; and the New Austria and Liberal Forum (NEOS) got just 7.4 percent, according to Austria's Interior Ministry.

    The snap elections were called in the aftermath of the collapse of the ruling coalition between OVP and the right-wing Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) in May 2019. Then FPO leader and Vice-Chancellor of Austria Heinz-Christian Strache was forced to resign over a video leak of his 2017 meeting in Ibiza with an alleged Russian-speaking businesswoman (who later turned out to be a Latvian citizen) who offered him a lucrative deal.

    OVP's Predictable Victory, FPO's Defeat & Greens' Rise

    The victory of Kurz's party was no surprise, say international observers explaining the current balance of power on the Austrian political arena.

    "Well, it is huge success for the People’s party under the leadership of Sebastian Kurz", notes Gerhard Mangott, political analyst from Austria's Innsbrook University, Austria. "They are now the dominant party in Austria’s party system."

    OVP's success was by no means overshadowed by an exposure by Falter, a Vienna-based alternative weekly that came a few weeks before that snap vote, Mangott remarks.

    The media outlet claimed that OVP had poured nearly €9 million into its 2019 campaign, while Austrian parties are restricted from spending over €7 million during the race. In addition, Falter shed light on Kurz's alleged luxurious habits. In response, the People's Party stated that the data cited by the Austrian weekly newspaper had been obtained through a hack, adding that it had been distorted and manipulated.

    "To my mind such topic does not really interest the majority of Austrian citizens", the political analyst presumes. "It was interesting for the liberal camp, but for the majority it is not really interesting. So what people did is to vote for the personality – Sebastian Kurz who is about to change the current situation, about to reform economic, social system, education politic. And I think for most of Austrians he is a competent leader. His personality plays the strong role for people to vote for People’s Party."

    Peter Schulze, professor of politics at Georg-August-University in Gottingen, Germany, echoes Mangott: "It was very clear that the government, or the former government, and Chancellor of Austria Mr Kurz was going to win with his party, the Conservative Party."

    According to Schulze, the real loser was the FPO, which was deprived of almost 10 percent of its votes compared with its previous results in October 2015 legislative elections.

    However, the professor believes that the Ibiza scandal was not the main reason behind the party's resounding defeat. He explains that the focus of public opinion has shifted from the migration problem – the leitmotif of the FPO campaign – to the climate issue, which resulted in additional 9.1 percent of votes gained by the Greens.

    "The agenda of threats and challenges on the concerns and anxieties of the population has changed dramatically in the last couple of years", the professor says. "It is not any more security, it is not anymore the future of economic performance, job security or whatever; it is now climate."

    Supporters of Austrian Peoples Party (OeVP) Sebastian Kurz react after the close of the polling stations in Vienna, Austria September 29, 2019.
    © REUTERS / LEONHARD FOEGER
    Supporters of Austrian Peoples Party (OeVP) Sebastian Kurz react after the close of the polling stations in Vienna, Austria September 29, 2019.

    Sebastian Kurz's Most Likely Allies in New Coalition

    The question then arises as to who will become OVP's coalition partner in the future government. According to the observers, several scenarios are possible.

    "The party has three choices to former coalition either with the Green Party, which is the most likely one, or with a Freedom Party which is less likely," Gerhard Mangott opines. "And also with the Social Democrats which is almost unlikely. But they are now in a very comfortable position to choose between three parties to form a coalition."

    He admits, however, that the Greens and OVP "have huge differences in wide areas" including migration, refugee policy and in climate protection.

    For his part, Peter Schulze offers a way out of the potential stalemate. According to him, OVP has the fourth option – to form a triple alliance with the Green Party and NEOS.

    "[OVP and the Greens] need some force in between, and the force in between could be the NEOS because the NEOS can do it with the Greens, and the NEOS can do it with the OVP, the Conservatives. So maybe we’ll have a kind of a three party coalition in the future, but, of course, nothing is secure", he says.

    Christian Schweiger, visiting professor and chair in comparative European governance systems at the Chemnitz University of Technology, agrees that a broader alliance between OVP, the Greens and NEOS is quite possible.

    While the professor does not rule out that Kurz may form another coalition with OFP if the option with the Greens doesn’t work, he highlights that the OVP leader "will be hesitant" to do this "simply because internally the Freedom Party is divided between those that are still supporting Strache and the modernisers surrounding the current party leader".

    "I think the Freedom Party itself is not ready to govern again; they already said last night that they might want to regroup in opposition", Schweiger notes.

    If Kurz fails to forge an alliance with the Greens, FPO, Social Democrats or a broader coalition including the Greens and NEOS there is still yet another alternative, according to the academic.

    "If none of these options work, he has already expressed his willingness to not hold another election but govern on the basis of minority government. Which I think he is likely to do because, in contrast to Germany for example, we’ve talked about this in the past, Austria, like many other countries, is not afraid to have a minority government, which might form alliances and majorities, multiple flexible majorities," Schweiger adds.

    While the composition of a new ruling coalition is still under consideration, one thing is clear, the professor says: "Kurz is likely to be Chancellor again, he will be asked to form a government".

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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    Austrian Freedom Party (FPO), ruling coalition, snap elections, Sebastian Kurz, Austrian People's Party (OVP), Europe, Austria
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